Many of you are familiar with the glass-versus-rubber-ball analogy that continues to resonate with leaders since it was introduced in 1991. Most recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned it in a speech that revived its popularity on LinkedIn.
Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola, first shared this analogy in a commencement speech for Georgia Tech Institute on September 6, 1991. The five-balls-of-life idea is as relevant today as it was when he first spoke of it to his audience. Here’s an excerpt of his speech:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends, and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Deciding which balls you keep juggling in the air is a great visual and technique to help you quickly distill what’s important when it comes to work-life choices—a concept that’s undergone even greater scrutiny, thanks to the better part of the last two years.
As I stepped away from an eleven-year tenure, overseeing thirty thousand employees and $18 billion in revenue, that stark transition caused me to reevaluate what my priorities were and really always have been. While I don’t have a juggling analogy like Dyson, the way I lock on to my destination is by focusing on my WHY with three pillars:
The first pillar is family
Helping my wife and son live their best lives and reach their fullest potential is the best gift that I can think of giving them. My wife and I are pouring into our son all that we’ve learned from one another and our respective journeys. Our hope is that he benefits from observing how we show resilience in the face of heartache and bumps along the road.
The second pillar is career
I’m in my dream job today. My role as special counsel to the CEO at Comcast is one where I still get to impact others. I love to motivate teams and influence others on critical issues. Whether it’s at Comcast or with the boards that I serve on, I’ve learned that nothing happens unless someone feels something. I want to teach others what my mentors taught me: make it fun, fair, and fulfilling.
The third pillar is service
So much was given to me as I was maturing and growing as a human being and later on from mentors in my life. It would be against everything that I believe if I didn’t pay it forward. Giving back, mentoring others, sharing my journey from the projects to the president, and providing community service are a few of the ways I’m coming full circle.
Whether it’s juggling glass and rubber balls or looking at your life as pillars, find an analogy that is meaningful to you and is “sticky” or not easily forgotten. Malcolm Gladwell popularized “stickiness” in The Tipping Point as a way to explain an idea that is memorable. His definition applies here. Having quick recall of your analogy helps when you need to make frequent but often important decisions that impact your focus on the journey. If you have a sticky visual or prompt that keeps you aligned with your goals, tell me about it. I’d love to hear your story.
Live your why,